Friday, February 28, 2014

Tell-Tale Thoughts: "The Tell-Tale Heart"

Where else should I start this series except where it started for me, with "The Tell-Tale Heart."

Though I read the tale often for many years, I have to admit that college was likely the last time that I read it, and that's been a minute or two. I remembered it in broad strokes, naturally, but was surprised to realize that, even after all these years, I could still just about recite the first page of it word for word.

The genius of "The Tell-Tale Heart," as with so many of Poe's stories, is that the style of the story so essentially captures the madness and paranoia of the narrator.
The early nervousness of the tale that ramps up and up in the telling to raving madness and extreme paranoia as the old man's heart beats louder and louder in his ears. Even the strange and rushed punctuation of the tale adds to that sense of how unbalanced our narrator truly is despite his protestations to the contrary.

I remember some of the artwork from when I first encountered the story, and I remember a drawing in that book that chilled me for many years. It was a photo of the old man in his bed, awakened by the noise, with the single beam of the narrator's lantern shining directly on a huge and misshapen eye. Though it certainly takes a good bit more than that to spook me these days, it's an image that remains just as fresh in the reading from the unillustrated leatherbound collection at age 41 as it was when I was staring at it in that paperback at age 10.

Of all of Poe's works that I've read and enjoyed over the years, "The Tell-Tale Heart," I believe, remains my favorite of his short stories. It's a near perfect representation of madness.

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